The Spike or Victoria University College Review Silver Jubilee 1924
It is both a privilege and a very great pleasure to take some small part in these Jubilations—especially as circumstances make it practically impossible to be present in person.
A man who has lived and worked in a number of countries seems to himself to have lived so many times over—perhaps more especially if his life has been spent in universities. My seven years at Victoria College were not the least of my official "lives."
I have often since, in fireside talk, told what Victoria College stands for in my experience. Probably I can do no better than tell something of that here.
The Professorial Staff falls into three distinct groups: the four "pioneer-professors" who are being specially honoured now; those who were gradually added to this nucleus staff; and subsequent "generations." It is of interest to-day that all three types are still represented in the College. I was, I think, the first of the third type, joining the staff at the beginning of 1908, when the first of the "pioneers"—the late R. C. Maclaurin—went overseas to his wonderful career in the U.S.A. Almost at the same time went that other brilliant New Zealander, Professor —now Sir John—Salmond, the first of the second type to go from the College. His successor is still on the staff. I was the first of the third type to leave.
The College was entering upon its tenth year when I came, and had been for some years in its own building on the "clay patch." Few colleges have been so yearned over, and loved into being, as had this one—by a group of men and women, most of whom (of the men at any rate) were still on the spot and watching over its destinies with jealous care. The fact that these men were otherwise employed in the daytime made this possible, without discredit—indeed with the utmost credit—to themselves. This gave the College a wonderful start, which could not but impress one who came in at that stage. And the hand of these same men is apparent to me in the enthusiastic organisation of this Silver Jubilee. The names that come to my mind are F—* de la Mare, George Dixon, "Spike" Wilson, H. H. Ostler, Archie Bogle, Seaforth Mackenzie (some of these at that time more closely attached to the College than others); and working with these, such more junior men as Siegfried Eichelbaum (brightest of College poets), Frank Wilson, and even the then very young colt—but of great promise—David Smith.
The more senior of these men were about my own age, and I was given a place in their circle—not as one of a superior order but as one of themselves. I have the clearest memory of evenings page 24 in which they told over again all the bright and joyous history of the years in which they had made the College what one found it—a happy family of men and women, living gloriously on the heights which the site of the College so fitly symbolised. Surely an initiation into professorship such as any university man might well envy! They even paid me the compliment of playing lawn-tennis with me! It was the—almost unconscious—idealism of their public-spirited activity that specially impressed me: their determination to make and keep the life of the College clean and fine; their courage and strength in the face of the ridicule, and active opposition, which such idealism always has to meet. This, and, more personally, the enthusiastic reception given to my own first tentative expression of university ideals, have remained an inspiration to me ever since—in work that has latterly been more specifically concerned with the tone and spirit of a college. But it was reflected most conspicuously in the remarkably joyous corporate social life of the College.
This brings me to mention the great place the women students had in the life of the College. Their ultimate association with the men I have named is emphasised by the fact that among those who stand out in my memory are the present Mrs. Archie Bogle, Mrs. David Smith, Mrs. Frank Wilson. Such fame had our social "sprees"—graced by professorial staff and their wives, generally in full force—that the more censorious "old women" in the community would hint that where so much fun abounded there could be little serious effort. Never was judgment in principle more false. Greater experience of life has brought the conviction that only in a spirit of such joy can the best work be done. Any falling short of the highest university work was due to other much less intrinsic causes. The Annual College Carnivals stand out as something the like of which I had never before seen——a great exhibition of exuberant youthful energy and high spirits. In short, the College had been extraordinarily successful in that essential feature of true university life, after which so many non-residential universities have striven in vain.
What Victoria College stands for more "academically" in my experience is perhaps of less general bearing and interest.
In these early days the professor had to do all the work of his own "school." It is not well that that stage of a university college should last too long; but it has its compensations, for a professor in the vigour of youth. He gets a grasp of the oneness of a ramifying subject like mine, such as nothing but teaching over the whole field of its fundamentals can give—that is, of course, if he refused to forget that he was teaching for life and thought, not for an ultra-external examination!
In the same way one got highly concentrated experience of university administration—again, of course, in a small way, but very real. In my early days the internal administration was vested entirely in the Professorial Board: Faculties had not come into existence. And for the last two and a half years of my seven I was Chairman of the Board (not by merit, but by rotation). As that involved practically all the secretarial work, without any relief from one's teaching duties, these must have been the busiest years in a life which has never been idle. But, again, the compensating gains were great—provided one were young enough "to stand the racket"! It is worth noting that in page 25 those days a graduate of the College was elected to the Chairmanship of the College Council—in the person of H. H. Ostler; he filled the office with distinction. Conspicuous among the memories of that time is the first Professorial Conference of the four University Colleges—held in Wellington: an event of very great importance to New Zealand University work.
But perhaps most valuable of all as university training—was the thorough and systematic discussion of general university principles, world wide in scope, carried on by a group of colleagues and other interested citizens, over a strenuous period of years.
All these things are part and parcel of my life—as also are the happy holiday excursions I made, with Professor Easter-field as ideal mate, to Tophouse, Nelson; down the Buller and the West Coast to the Franz Josef Glacier; and to the Southern Alps. It is a pleasure to put them on record, even if the editor's blue pencil may have to operate ruthlessly.
But my last word is to express the hope that Victoria College may revive, on this wave of enthusiasm, the glory of its first ten years.
D. K. Picken, M.A.Master of Ormond College, University of Melbourne: formerly Professor of Pure and Applied Mathematics in Victoria College (1908-14).
* There are two ways in which this blank may be filled to taste.